As COVID-19 cases increases parents are having to make tough decisions on whether to send their children back to school in August. Schools across the state closed in March due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus and they are expected to open the week of August 24.

As COVID-19 cases increases parents are having to make tough decisions on whether to send their children back to school in August or seek an alternative.

Schools across the state closed in March due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus and they are expected to open the week of August 24.

The original date, August 13, was pushed back by Arkansas Secretary of Education, Johnny Key, to allow Arkansas School Districts more time to prepare their back-to-school plan.

As Dollarway School District’s superintendent, Barbara Warren, takes on her dual role as superintendent for the Pine Bluff School District also, she shares the details from the district’s Ready for Learning plan.

“Our goal is to provide a safe environment that includes a rich educational experience with opportunities for social interaction and co-curricular activities, while adhering to guidelines and directives issued from our Governor, the Arkansas Department of Health, and the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE),” said Warren.
With identical plans, both districts offer parents the option for face-to-face instruction on campus each day or virtual instruction at home.

“The virtual option is available for parents who want their children to be taught remotely on a full-time basis from home, using technology-based learning platforms,” said Warren. “Scholars will not be required to be on campus, but will receive instruction facilitated by Pine Bluff School District teachers and other digital instruction providers. Attendance will be taken and lessons will be graded as required.”

According to the CDC, the more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in school settings as follows:

Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.

More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).

Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.

Warren states the district is in the process of securing an adequate number of devices to ensure that each student will be issued the necessary equipment. Devices will be issued before school starts.

For those who don’t have internet service, the district will be placing Wi0Fi equipped buses throughout both school districts.

For those parents who choose to send their child back to school Warren said the district has implemented safety measures to keep everyone safe.

“The district is preparing to perform a daily screening of each student, staff member, and visitor upon entry to the campus,” said Warren. “This screening will include daily temperature readings. Adults who fail the screening will be directed to exit the campus immediately.”

Students who have a temperature or show signs of illness will be held in isolation rooms and the parent/guardian will be required to pick up their student as soon as possible.

Both school districts will require all students and staff members to wear masks as a safety precaution. The district will provide (one-time) a specific number of reusable, washable face coverings for all students and staff at the beginning of the school year.

The CDC recommends in their guide for schools that K-12 students be taught how to properly wear cloth masks, and says they “should be worn by staff and students (particularly older students) as feasible.” The report calls them most essential for times when physical distancing is difficult, and acknowledges that hours-long use may not be feasible for younger students.

“Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms,” the guide says.

The CDC announced they will be providing further guidance for schools this week.

Whether one chooses virtual learning or face-to-face instruction, Warren states switching back and forth is discouraged.

“We realize that some changes may become necessary,” said Warren. “When possible, changes should be made at the beginning or end of the nine weeks or semester.”

Warren has scheduled community engagement sessions regarding back-to-school and is encouraging everyone with questions or comments to attend.

Three Zoom meetings have been scheduled. For the Pine Bluff School District, the community conversations will be July 23, July 3, and August 6 from 6 pm to 7 pm.

For the Dollarway School District, those dates will be July 21, July 28 and August 4 from 6 pm to 7 pm.

“We want to have open and transparent conversations with the community and its staff members,” said Warren. “This will allow us to work together to ensure safety and learning for all of our students.”